Archive for December 8th, 2007

All I Want for Christmas …

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

The Florida Citizens for Science call to action project “All I Want for Christmas is a Good Science Education” is in full swing. I’m getting quite a bit of interest, which is outstanding! We need everyone, including you, to participate in order for this effort to have any impact.

I was asked by some folks in other states if it was OK for them to participate. Yes, please do! If you are out of state, then perhaps you can focus your messages on educating our Board of Education about what evolution is, and what the nature of science is. It would be especially useful if you are a scientist or teacher or other professional who can speak with clear authority on the matter.

Please take a moment to click through the link above, or see the previous blog post announcing this project.

Florida education official uses position to oppose evolution

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

An employee at the Florida Department of Education sent out an e-mail from her personal account to several people in an attempt to rally them to oppose the new draft of the state science standards because of the way evolution is now included. (Browse through previous posts on this blog for background on this hot issue.)

Here are the first two paragraphs of that e-mail. There are all sorts of problems with what she has to say, but can you spot the one thing that would make a newspaper reporter want to do a story?

My name is Charlie Carraway and I’m a member of Sopchoppy Southern Baptist Church, Sopchoppy , Florida , but I also work for the Florida Department of Education as the Director of the Office of Instructional Materials. That means I oversee the adoption process in the state, and I work in close proximity to the folks in the Office of Mathematics and Science, who have been in charge of the revision of the science standards. I say all of this, obviously, to give this e-mail credibility, so that you’ll continue to read and pass on the information I’m sharing with you.

A lot of people don’t understand “why all the fuss about the new science standards,” so I thought I would try to give more background information. The science standards that are in place now do not include the word Evolution anywhere. In fact, they are ambiguous enough that the districts and schools in Florida have been able to teach evolution as a theory along With other theories. In addition to that, if these new standards are adopted, the new instructional materials adopted and placed in our schools will be aligned to these standards, which means that our new materials will explicitly teach evolution – and not as a theory!!!

If you guessed that it’s because she is using her position to promote a personal view, then you are right! Here’s the newspaper article in the St. Petersburg Times about Ms. Carraway.

“It is inappropriate for any department employee to use their public position to advocate their personal positions,” department spokesman Tom Butler said Friday. “Ms. Carraway has been counseled.”

That means human resources personnel met with Carraway and warned her not to do this again, but she remains on the job.

The reporter goes on to mention an issue in Texas where a state Education Agency’s director of science was forced to resign for forwarding an e-mail about a talk being given concerning evolution and creationism. These two e-mail incidents are hardly similar, contrary to what the reporter claims. (Here’s a New York Times article on the Texas matter.) In Texas, the issue was taken to an extreme by the Education Agency, resulting in a professional losing her job for essentially doing her job: supporting science. Here in Florida, Carraway was only reprimanded, which was the appropriate reaction in this case. And Carraway obviously hasn’t a clue what she is talking about, which is painfully evident in her writing. “… which means that our new materials will explicitly teach evolution – and not as a theory!!!” Yes, Ms. Carraway, evolution will be taught as an established scientific theory, but you apparently don’t have any idea what that really means. Here’s a definition that might help you out:

“In everyday use, the word “theory” often means an untested hunch, or a guess without supporting evidence. But for scientists, a theory has nearly the opposite meaning. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts. The theory of gravitation, for instance, explains why apples fall from trees and astronauts float in space. Similarly, the theory of evolution explains why so many plants and animals–some very similar and some very different–exist on Earth now and in the past, as revealed by the fossil record.”

American Museum of Natural History website.

There is something very important to mention here: Ms. Carraway is very likely not the only person in the Florida Department of Education trying to undermine science education. Perhaps the St. Petersburg Times or some other newspaper will follow up on this to see “how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Florida Citizens for Science has the entire text of Ms. Carraway’s e-mail. You can view it on the continuation page.


Miami Herald article

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

The Miami Herald jumps into the fray over evolution in the Florida public schools science standards. The reporter writes a comprehensive piece on what is going on, the history of attacks on evolution education, and interviews quite a few people to try to display everyone’s views on the subject. In an article like this, it’s hard for the anti-science folks to come off as looking like anything other than a bunch of Chicken Littles. Even though this story did show the supposed “two sides” to this circus, the anti-science folks’ quotes ring hollow. They claim they are not approaching this from a religious direction, but that is just a paper-thin disguise. If their complaints are not coming from their personal, narrow religious views, then where are they coming from? That’s a question that should have been asked by the reporter. There are plenty of authoritative voices in the story speaking for evolution, which is outstanding. Here’s a sample:

“We’re looking at a scientific theory as opposed to a belief system,” said Rick Ellenburg, Florida’s 2008 teacher of the year. “I’m a religious person and I don’t see a conflict in my life. Within the realm of what I teach it’s pretty much a non-issue.”

Ellenburg, who is Presbyterian, teaches science at Camelot Elementary School in Orlando and served on the committee that wrote the standards.

Arguments for inserting skepticism, rather than religious concepts, into evolution lessons emerged after a federal court ruling nearly two years ago struck down the teaching of intelligent design in Dover, Pa., biology classes, said Michael Ruse, director of Florida State University’s program on the history and philosophy of science.

“This is strategy No. 4,” Ruse said. He said it’s a wedge issue seen as a step toward introducing religious ideas.

Many supporters say the standards are compatible with their religious beliefs including Joe Wolf, a Presbyterian deacon from Winter Haven who also serves as president of Florida Citizens for Science.

“What we really support is the teaching of strong science,” Wolf said. “Part of that has to be the teaching of evolution. Evolution is the foundation of biology.”

“We’re not talking about crazy, wacky stuff,” said Sherry Southerland, associate professor of science education at Florida State University. “This is the fundamental science the rest of the world learns.”

As of Tuesday, 8,152 people – nearly three-quarters of them educators – had submitted comments to the site, where the split was heavily in support of the evolution standards.

[edited to add: It looks like the Associated Press has picked up this story, thus launching it national.]